GE Energy completes control upgrade at Hawaiian plant

The 4-MW Wainiha hydro plant in Kauai, Hawaii, is now operating with Mark VIe digital controls and a new hydraulic system supplied by GE Energy’s Control Solutions business.

The plant, owned and operated by Kauai Coffee Company, began operating in 1906. The powerhouse contains two Pelton turbines, 60-hertz generators, and mechanical fly-ball governors. It was difficult to maintain the governors to run efficiently and correctly, says Dan Sargent, project manager with Kauai Coffee Company. The old controls created an imbalance in needle position that resulted in lost efficiency and continuous vibration and wear, he says. The new control system achieves accurate balancing of the needles, which increases power production during lower water levels and allows for smoother operation, Sargent says.

The Mark VIe digital controls installed in the plant feed into GE’s ToolboxST software, Sargent says. The system allows Wainiha plant staff to monitor and troubleshoot the system in real-time, both on-site a remotely, he says. As a result of the conversion, start-up time for the plant is now ten minutes, compared with a previous average of four hours.

In June 2009, a traditional Hawaiian blessing was held for the new control system.

The upgrade of the Wainiha plant is part of efforts in Hawaii to implement a progressive clean energy initiative. Utilities in Hawaii must generate 40 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The plant produces enough electricity to power Kauai Coffee Company’s coffee-processing factor, visitor center complex, and main offices. It also produces 6 percent of the island’s total power generation.

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